"Elijah … prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months" (James 5:17; 1 Kings 17:8-24).
The first part of the answer to his prayer led him to Samaria and Ahab. The next to Cherith, where he had to learn that Jehovah Himself was enough for His people, and that He had all power in His hand. The journey to Zarephath and his long sojourn there was one more step in the way God was fitting him for His service. The upper room where he dwelt became hallowed by prayer, as had the rocky cliffs at Cherith before. As Elijah heard the tales of sorrow and starvation, of parched fields that could yield no pasture for herds and flocks, of little children crying for the food their parents knew not where to find, how easy it would have been for him to question whether or not he had made a sad mistake.
Elijah had to continually look away from outward things and rest in the word, "I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." In so doing, he could wait quietly on and on all those long months, which grew into years. Still he heard no word from Jehovah to send him back to his own country and people, but he prayed. This was his resource. In prayer he drew near to all the divine calm of the presence of God, and found that in waiting there his spirit was strengthened. He was daily taught how to meet the everyday life that otherwise might have chafed and fretted him. He was yielded to God. If only we knew more of that, how much more peacefully we should face the little worries or the great emergencies that come in our path. It is never lost time to wait on God.
We may be sure, too, that the widow who sheltered Elijah, and was herself miraculously provided for in consequence, was also being taught many lessons. What living interest must have filled her mind and that of her son as they listened to all Elijah would tell them! What would be Bible lessons to us now, would be told them by one near enough to the glorious reign of Solomon and the loving rule of David to have heard from old men what their fathers had seen of these kings. Then all the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert were doubtless told them, and at last they began to see a little of the loving-kindness of Jehovah. The daily supply of meal in the barrel and of oil in the cruse showed them the power and mercy of God; but they had to learn something else.
The son of the widow began to fail in health and the mother knew that his life was in danger. The day at last came when death entered that quiet home. The only child of his widowed mother lay before her in the cold quiet of death. Wild words fall from her lips: "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?"
Yet the grace of God was to be more fully shown out in this very thing than in keeping the widow and her son alive in famine. All the abounding mercy to her in sending the prophet to her house and providing for them had not brought her to a knowledge of what she was before God. Too often it is the same with us. In some way or other death generally has to come before us—very near to us—before we are awakened to a true sense of our sinfulness and of our sin. We may learn it, as we surely ought, when we see the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary, there on that cross of shame, dying, dead—and for me, for you! Have you ever thought for one short five minutes what that death meant for you?
Elijah did not express his sympathy with the poor mother by telling her so—he knew she was in no state to be comforted thus, and his own grief was too great also. As if to completely identify himself with the lifeless child, the prophet now "stretched himself upon the child three times." We are also told that he prayed: "O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again."
It was a wonderful request. His was the boldness of faith that at this moment could trust enough to ask even for life for the dead. Only one could thus pray who knew what it was habitually "to stand before God," as the prophet surely did. The God of Elijah was to be proved to be the conqueror of death, and the woman was to have her faith in His love and in His power so strengthened, that never again would she trust in false gods. In the presence of death she had discovered that she was guilty. This was needful, though not then could it be told her what the cross of Calvary tells us now: "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). We learn there—at Calvary—that death was the thing our sins deserved. If we are believers in Him, the death of Christ also gives us the assurance that the same wondrous sacrifice has put our sins away.
"And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." What a supreme moment that must have been for Elijah! Not only was the son restored to his heart-broken mother, but to the one who had prayed there was the blessedness of knowing that Jehovah had done this. We are only told one thing that the mother said. There may have been much delight and surprise and gratitude that was left unrecorded, but we are told that she said to Elijah, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth."
It is impossible for us to conceive the revolution of thought and feeling wrought in the soul of the widow by her son being raised out of death. She now knew that Jehovah was the living God—able to speak the dead into life, having life at His command. She knew that His word was truth, that it alone was truth. Thus this death in her home, which had been a fiery trial to both Elijah and herself, became the doorway into a deeper blessedness than they had ever realized before. They saw something more of the love that later on would not even spare His own Son, but would give Him up for the life of the world (Romans 8:32).
For those who still have the heavy burden of their sins between themselves and God, I would add these precious words—"The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7) Take these words and fix your heart and mind upon them until you see something of what they mean. Then go to God and ask Him to enable you to put your whole trust in Christ. Cast yourself entirely upon His pardoning love, and you will soon be rejoicing in the fact that you are saved with an everlasting salvation, though you still have everything else to learn. Then go on "looking off unto Jesus" for all the rest of your life here. If you do that He will undertake for you in everything.
—Condensed from Elijah the Prophet of Israel by L.T. Published by G. Morrish.